Conan Exiles Early Access Review: Welcome to Hyboria
Open world survival games like ARK: Survival Evolved, Rust, and 7 Days to Die, are a big thing right now – it seems like there is a new one being released every other day on Steam. While the setting may differ most of them have one thing in common: They were developed by indie developers. It was only a matter of time though until at least one of the bigger publishers wanted a piece of the cake, too. Enter Funcom with Conan Exiles, their second video game based on the Conan Franchise after Age of Conan.
What is Conan Exiles?
Conan Exiles is a fantasy open world survival game from Funcom and based on the Conan franchise. If you’ve ever read any of the Conan books you know what to expect: A harsh wasteland environment, masses of barbaric enemies, and brutal bloodthirsty gods – and boy does the game deliver (more on that later)!
As in most open world survival games, Conan Exiles does not provide you with goals – except your survival of course – or a real story-driven experience. It is up to you to decide what to do. You want to test your mettle against other players? You can do that by joining one of the many official or player created servers. You want to build a cool base and explore the land? You can do that, too. Your goal is to enslave half of the population of Hyboria? Well … while certainly not easy, feel free to try!
Humble Horrible Beginnings
After creating your character – which is a pretty in-depth process where you can customize everything from your hair, to your eyes to the size of your breasts and genitals (yes, there’s actually a slider for that) you find yourself crucified in the middle of the desert for some crimes you may or may not have committed. Waiting for your death you open your eyes to see Conan himself cutting you from the cross only to leave immediately after: You are on your own again.
Now it’s up to you: left only with one meager water skin and stark naked (except for a loincloth – depending on your nudity settings) you need to get your priorities straight pretty fast. Especially the first couple of hours can be a bit frustrating due to the rather steep learning curve. Death for an exile comes fast and in many forms: Hunger, thirst, other exiles, and whatever creatures you encounter.
Your home, …
In order to not starve to death or get killed immediately the first thing you’ll probably check out is the crafting system which allows you to build anything from simple plant fiber clothes to a bedroll, a shelter, tools, and weapons. The further you advance in the game, the better the items you can craft will get. With every level you gain you can not only improve your stats like strength, grit, etc. but also unlock new recipes to suit your needs and playstyle. The experience to level is gained by almost everything you do – be it crafting, killing creatures, or just idling (yes, there is XP to be gained for just being in the game).
If you’ve never played an open world survival game, crafting is also where it gets interesting. While it may require a lot of resources and can develop into a real timesink, a good building, and crafting system is one of the things that draws players to games like Conan. Personally, I found the system presented rather basic but functional: You can craft foundations, walls with or without windows, roofs, and other premade parts that will allow you to build your home. They snap together easily and logically: You can’t just build a wall in the middle of the desert without a foundation being present at first, same as you cannot build a roof without the walls, etc. For an early access game, everything works very smooth and almost without issues. The snapping feature makes sure you don’t get confused and also helps with making buildings as easy as possible. Advancing further in the crafting tree should add more shapes and materials to the repertoire, which will allow for even more interesting buildings.
Crafting is not only building your home though but also weapons, tools, ovens, beds, … you see where this is going. Some things cannot be built without prerequisites and climbing up the whole crafting tree takes some time.
… your thralls, …
Conan once said “Crush your enemies! See them driven before you! Hear the lamentations of their women!” and this is definitely one of the principles of this game! Fighting is a huge part of the gameplay and just as bloody as you’d imagine it would be. Your dead enemies crumple down before you while losing body parts, being cut in half, and generally just drenching the dry sand with their blood.
If you’re afraid that by killing whatever you see you will run out of enemies, worry not: Everyone and everything wants to see you dead. The AI is incredibly simple. While aggro ranges may differ, critters and humans alike will attack and try to kill you until one of you is done for. They will not run away if they notice that they are on the losing end. They will not cease to attack and beg for mercy. They will not yell for help to alarm their comrades. I sincerely hope that this is something that will get patched and be made more sophisticated. Chances that it will happen are high, as patches are released very frequently and the game has already more than made up for its development costs. Don’t get me wrong – combat itself is still fun, fast paced, and incredibly satisfying (especially after you’ve been prey for the first hour of the game or so).
Killing is not all the barbarian inhabitants of the land are good for, though. Once you are far enough along in your skill tree you can build tools that will allow you to not only capture your enemies but also break their will and make them your slaves who will cater to your every whim. Well – at least as far as they can regarding their preassigned profession and rank. It is a clever system that really can make you feel like the Lord of the Savage Lands and in addition to that provides unique perks. Dancers, for example, make sure to remove corruption and buff you, warriors defend your home when you’re not around, and blacksmiths give you access to items you couldn’t craft without them.
… your gods
As if building fortresses and enslaving savages is not enough you can – during character creation – choose a god you’d like to follow. While it seems rather unimportant so far and certainly isn’t the most intriguing game mechanic it still adds some unique cruelty and gruesomeness. Chrom, Mithra, Yog, and Set are definitely not to be trifled with. With the exception of Chrom who just couldn’t care less, they are as brutal and bloodthirsty as the lands you live in. They want your devotion in form of human sacrifices, souls, or your character actually turning to cannibalism (yuk!). In return, they give you their blessing, something that can make the difference between life and death …
Thoughts on the game
After getting used to the excessive violence I started to appreciate the beautiful landscape and the smoothness with which the game played even shortly after its release into early access – something that is certainly not customary.
Conan Exiles also already offers a lot of features that look promising, fun, and worth exploring. That said the game is in early access and while feature rich for its state most of the features are still noticeably rough around the edges and lacking depth as well as polishing. I believe that if Funcom can expand on what they have, Conan Exiles will become an excellent game that will set itself apart from other open world survival titles. When looking at upcoming features like mounts, siege warfare, and settlements I feel confident that this is what they intend to do.
Conan Exiles is developed by Funcom and currently available as an early access title on Steam. It can be played in single or multiplayer mode on local or publically available servers.